Week 32, 04 - 06 August 2016 - Qatar

It had been 2-years since I last visited my good friends Simon and Jenny Price in Qatar and as my family was still in South Africa, a weekend break for a catch-up was a great idea. Coming from Kuwait, it was a little like going from the oven to the sauna and it was a little discouraging when the pilot announced on the descent that a dust storm was blowing into Qatar for the weekend. We 'saffers' are made of sterner stuff and it would take more than that to deter us from having a fun weekend.

We went way past midnight on Thursday, before realising we had to get up early Friday morning to escape some of the heat (but not the humidity). So it was with not much sleep, we drove out to one of the local farms where I had been to on my previous visit.

Heat with humidity and dust are not conducive for photography, so you need to get relatively close to the birds to get some sharpness in your images. Arabian Grey Shrikes are a rarity in Kuwait, but are resident breeders in Qatar. Early on, we were able to find a few obliging birds.

Arabian Grey Shrike (Lanius aucheri)

Juvenile Arabian Grey Shrike (Lanius aucheri)

A few early migrants were seen; Eurasian Hoopoe and European Roller. I saw a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and Simon mentioned that they may have bred on the farm this summer as a number of juveniles had been seen.

A pair of Common Quail (also resident breeders) were seen on the edge of one of the fields.

Male Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix)

Female Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) deconstructing a Grasshopper
Simon had not seen the resident Lillith Owls for some time, but we tried one of the known roosts and found the 'old' Lillith Owl that is showing its age. However, it's hunting prowess still seemed to be in-tact, as it was halfway through eating a Jerboa or Gerbil.

Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith) with breakfast

Lastly, we saw a juvenile Little Bittern that suggests that this species is probably also breeding on the farm.

Juvenile Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)
Simon had found Qatar's first Indian Pond Heron in the winter at a different site and amazingly it has stayed on till now - but also transformed into summer/breeding plumage. So on the way home, we made a detour to look for it and actually found it quite easily.

The stunning Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) in summer plumage

A really enjoyable morning out, despite the climatic challenges and some pretty cool birds seen. Then it was back to the apartment with a view over Doha (normally) to enjoy a few cold ones to re-hydrate. 

Check out Simon's Blog for news and great images of Qatar's birds - 

Week 28, 10 - 11 July 2015 - United Arab Emirates Pelagic

The birders in UAE had planned a pelagic for this weekend which held promise of seeing some pelagic species that we just don't get in Kuwait. Markus Craig and I put our names forwarded for the trip and Mark Smiles kindly agreed to host the 2 of us for the weekend.

I flew down on the Thursday night to squeeze in an extra day's birding for some of the specials and a few vagrants that were still present. It was a very early start for Mark and I on Friday morning to get to Wamm Farms for sunrise. It was a perfect morning, aside from the humidity which was really intense; especially when compared to Kuwait. Within an hour we were literally soaked through and it also took some time for my camera kit to adjust to the dew point and ambient temperature.

House Crows and Indian Rollers were abundant as we walked the perimeter of the farm. 

Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)
My first 'good' bird was a Striolated Bunting

Striolated Bunting (Emberiza striolata)
Red-wattled Lapwings were pretty active and probably had young nearby

Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
Along the fence we came across a family of Arabian Babblers which was a first for me; Tick # 1

Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps)

Aside from an escape Diamond Dove, not much new was seen outside the Farm, so we ventured in to walk much of the farm. 

Escape Diamond Dove
The workers were busy cutting the grass with tractors and it was here that together with the Western Cattle Egret that we found the mega Eastern Cattle Egret foraging behind the tractor together with it's western cousins. Tick # 2, excuse the pun!

Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus)

Whilst I was enjoying the Egret, Mark picked up the Bay-backed Shrike that had been present at this site for some time; Tick # 3. It was pretty flighty and with the heavy moisture in the air, was hard to get a clean and sharp image.

Bay-backed Shrike (Lanius vittatus)

We also picked up a young Woodchat Shrike in the same habitat as the Bay-backed.

Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
Along the boundary I found a few Millet Skippers, a butterfly we should get in Kuwait

Millet Skipper (Pelopidas mathias)
By now, we were truly soaked and decided to head down to Fujairah Port Beach finding Common and Saunders's Tern roosting some distance away on the beach.

A distant Saunders's Tern (Sterna saundersi)

Mark then made a stop at Masafi Wadi, which reminded me of a lunar landscape. We parked the car and walked quite some way into the wadi in dry heat, which was a relief in a sadistic way. A few Desert Larks were heard then seen.

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti)
Finally we found an area for the enigmatic Scrub Warbler and not long after picked up a pair that were working their way through the barren desert flora - what a great little bird; Tick # 4

Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta)

Arabian Cicada's were calling incessantly and we finally managed to find one of this unusual and cryptic insects in a barren acacia type tree

The cryptic Arabian Cicada
We then headed to Al Qudra where we found water and shorebirds. Upcher's Warbler provided a bit of a challenge until we finally nailed the ID.

Upcher's Warbler (Hippolais languida)
There were a few introduced antelope present at Al Qudra; both Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle
and Sand Gazelle

Sand Gazelle
We then headed toward Dubai and Mushrif Park for another rarity, Black Drongo which didn't take too long to find. Tick # 5 for the Region's checklist.

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
By now it was late afternoon and after a quick stop at Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary it was time to pick up Markus from the airport. From the airport we headed back to Mushrif Park for Markus to tick the Drongo

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
Our last stop for the day was Warsan Lakes and here we added Little Bittern, Little Green Bee-eater

Little Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)
Nesting Baya Weaver

Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)

Baya Weaver nest (Ploceus philippinus)
And Streaked Weaver; Tick # 6 

Streaked Weaver (Ploceus manyar)
Before the sun set on a long, sweaty and productive day

The sun sets on Day 1
For day 2, we were again up pretty early and headed back to Wamm Farms with a breakfast stop on the way. What a difference a day can make; yesterday was calm, humid and sweaty whereas today was hot and quite windy with less humidity.

We were on a mission to find two birds for Markus, but could only relocate the Eastern Cattle Egret

Eastern (Bubulcus coromandus) and Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
We couldn't spend too much time, as we needed to meet the rest of the group at Kalba for the afternoon pelagic. It was great to finally put some faces to the birder's names I knew from UAE.

The new fishing boat owned and piloted by Abdullah accommodated all of us, although sitting space was a premium. We then headed out from Kalba and spent the next 4-hours searching the seas for signs of feeding pelagic fish.

In the end we found good numbers of Bridled Terns

Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)
Wilson's Storm Petrels; Tick # 7. Trust me, these small and fast flying birds were a real challenge to photography from the unsteady deck of the boat!

Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

as were these Persian Shearwater's; Tick # 8, But in the end, I was a pretty content birder.

Persian Shearwater (Puffinus persicus)

However another highlight was not in the form a a pelagic mega, but rather a Whale Shark that passed by our boat pretty close whilst we were watching a tuna feeding frenzy

Whale Shark
Overall a great day and a really good weekend with Mark and Markus catching up on some great birds in the UAE. Thanks again to Mark for his hospitality and for showing us all of the UAE hot spots.

Sunset on Day 2
Mark dropped us both at the airport on his way home and I wasn't surprised when a customs officer pulled me over for a 'random' search given the state I was in after two hard-core days birding

Week 22, 31 May 2104 - Al Ruwais, Qatar

On our last outing we decided to take the long drive to the north of Qatar and explore Al Ruwais and then meander back do Doha along the coast.

One thing you need to remember when you have high humidity is to 'equalise' the ambient temperature in the car before getting out with your camera gear. If you don't, it takes quite some time for the moisture to evaporate and perhaps a photographic opportunity. But, to drive for an hour without ac is also no fun, so you take your chances.

On arrival we had a few Striated Herons, but they proved to be too skittish for images - but great to see a bird that you would expect to see more often in Kuwait. Some dark slender birds flying just off-shore was a small flock of Bridled Terns, a good coastal record for Qatar.

Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus)

A single Slender-billed Gull passed by overhead

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei)
Not much else was seen other than the expected shorebirds, so we headed back south making a few stops. But the rising mercury put paid to seeing much more. A stop in some mangroves on the coast was interesting, I just couldn't coax a large reed warbler out into the open for identification, so focused on trying to get an useful image of the many 'purple' Mangrove Crabs

Metopograpsus thukuhar
From here, it was straight back to Simon's apartment for a few cold beverages around the pool where many other sane people were doing the same.

Week 22, 29 May 2014 - Irkaya, Qatar

Just when I thought it would be quite some time before I visited Qatar again, I made use of a ticket provided by the company that I tried in vain to convert to family tickets so that my family could join me and also catch-up with our good friends Simon and Jenny Price. Unfortunately it was not to be this time. It was a good flight which landed at the newly opened, bigger and way more impressive international airport - what a pleasure going through customs!

Of course Simon and I were going to do some birding and it was an easy choice to head to Irkaya, especially since the Lillith Owlets had raised a couple of youngsters. We were at the gate to the farm just as the sun was warming up and first bird seen was a Greater Hoopoe Lark

Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)
We headed straight to the Owlet site 

Lillith Owlet territory
and all of them were out of the nest and sitting on various outcrops of rocks surveying their domain. I'm sure the parents were thinking where the hell are these kids going to setup home and their own territory. Nevertheless we enjoyed their company for a good hour, before moving on to explore other parts of the farm
Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)

Numbers of Black-crowned Sparrow Larks were seen, which were absent earlier on in the year.

Female Black-crowned Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix nigriceps)

Male Black-crowned Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix nigriceps)
In an area of Acacia trees we found a young Arabian Grey Shrike

Juvenile Arabian Grey Shrike (Lanius aucheri)
Around the Pivot irrigation we came across Spanish Sparrow

Male Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
And numbers of Corn Buntings which are breeding residents at this site

Resident and breeding Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)

This one is a rather dark individual

Simon had seen another paid of Lillith Owls elsewhere on the farm, so we went to check on them and found both a male and female that appeared to still have an active burrow (a week later, Simon confirmed that they had raised just one baby, as opposed to four for the other pair)

Female Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)

Male Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)

Worn female Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)

Male Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)
A last stop near one of the pools in the farm produced Red-wattled Lapwing with two juvenile birds.

Juvenile Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)

Adult Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
On the road out, a few Yellow-spotted Agama's were seen sunning themselves on the sand embankment

Yellow-spotted Agama (Trapelus flavimaculatus)
Irkaya is certainly one of the better sites in Qatar and well worth trying to visit if you get a chance with a local guide.

Week 13, 24 March 2014 - Doha Golf Club, Qatar

Another early start to visit a special site in Qatar; the lush and green habitat of most golf courses the world over do attract good birds in general. Even though there are pesticides together with fertilizer used to keep fairways and greens pristine, you still have lush and wooded fairways and water holes all of which provide shelter, protection and food for both resident and passage migrants.

We quickly encountered some of the local residents like Grey Francolin which strangely enough we don't get in Kuwait (oh yes, too many shooters - so no chance of survival for a game bird!)

Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)

Numbers of Indian Silverbill were seen and these are resident in Kuwait but in very low numbers

Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabarica)
Crested Lark's do seem to enjoy digging and probing for worms, this one on one of the tee-boxes

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) with a morsel only it could enjoy
The remaining birds that we saw were all passage migrants and were generally pretty approachable, not surprising as it is only golf balls and not bullets they have to look out for. We had both male and female Semi-collared Flycatchers

Female Semi-collared Flycatcher (Ficedula semitorquata)

Male Semi-collared Flycatcher (Ficedula semitorquata) popped up very close by
Eurasian Hoopoe's

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Good numbers of Red-throated Pipits

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) enjoying the sprinkler's

and fewer Tree Pipits

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) in typical habitat

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) against the backdrop of a bunker
A single Mauryan Grey Shrike put in an appearance

Mauryan Grey Shrike (Lanius lahtora pallidirostris)
as did a stunning male karaleni Turkestan Shrike

Male Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides karelini)
A few Pied Wheatears were seen in the drier areas of the course

Male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
with Grey Wagtail

Female Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
and Black-winged Stilt around the waterholes, as expected

Reflected Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Although it is an introduced exotic to Qatar, a male Indian Peafowl is truly a sight to behold and magnificent in all his splendour

Male Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

Even the 'back' side is impressive
And all too soon it was time to head back, pack my gear and leave for the airport after a truly enjoyable and fun weekend with our good South African friends. 

Week 13, 23 March 2014 - Irkaya, Qatar

We were up early again today, as Simon was going to show me one of the better known birding sites in Qatar, Irkaya. This is a large agricultural farm with Pivot Irrigation and a little reminiscent of the Pivot Fields in Kuwait we no longer have access to.

It has a good mix of habitat with the pivot fields themselves, some desert areas and a few small bodies of water and reeds and so provides a good diversity of species.

Simon gave an orientation drive first and then we focused on a few specific areas. The first stop was where the Lillith Owlets have a burrow and when we arrived the adults were sitting up on the small rocky mounds catching the early morning sun.

Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)

Around the Acacia desert habitat we found adult and juvenile Arabian Grey Shrike which breed at this site

Juvenile Arabian Grey Shrike (Lanius aucheri)

Adult Arabian Grey Shrike (Lanius aucheri)

A 1st year Turkestan Shrike was also recorded

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
Corn Buntings are present all year round at Irkaya and are breeding residents

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
Sitting quietly at one of the dams we enjoyed the antics of a couple of Grey Wagtails resplendent in breeding plumage.

Female Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

Male Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
At the same site, a pair of Red-wattled Lapwings were also present and this is a species that appears to have declined in Kuwait over the past few years, but breeds at this site

Red-wattled Lapwing
Over the Pivot Fields a sub-adult male Western Marsh Harrier came drifting overhead

Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Neil Morris who was also at the farm alerted us to a Cinereous Bunting which we eventually go onto - but not ideal conditions as it took refuge at the base of a tree in the shade.

Cinereous Bunting (Emberiza cineracea)
On the way out, we picked up a male and female Pied Wheatear for what was a great morning at a special site

Female Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

Male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
23 March 2014 - Qatar Moto GP

Not birding related at all, but a Moto GP bike going down the main straight of the Lusail Circuit at 349km/h puts a stooping Peregrine Falcon to shame.

The Qatar Moto GP was just one of the reasons for visiting Qatar and I am a fan of # 46 The Doctor, Valentino Rossi. I was thrilled to see him lead the race for a good few laps only to finish second to Marc Marquez who to date has not yet lost a race in the Championships.

# 46

The Doctor

Rossi leading Marquez

Week 12, 22 March 2014 - Abu Nakhla, Qatar

I spent the weekend in Qatar with our good South African friends Simon and Jenny Price who we had met in Kuwait a few year ago, but they had now relocated to Qatar. It was also the weekend of the Qatar Moto GP which was an event that I had been wanting to get to over the past few years; so we had a great weekend of catch-up, birding and of course the Moto GP itself.

Simon has a great website ( and it is well worth checking out for some first class images of birds of Qatar.

Simon was keen to show me some of the local birding sites, so on the first day we visited Abu Nakhla, a location that two large treated water lakes and so provided a good variety of water birds and a few spring passerines. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great with cloudy conditions and not much usable light, but we enjoyed large numbers of adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
I was astounded at the number of Great Crested Grebes which breed at this site, especially considering they are rare in Kuwait. They remained a little too distant, but the Black-necked Grebes in breeding plumage were a little more obliging - I love their blood red eyes!

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

A number of passerine migrants were seen around the lakes and included Common Redstart

Male Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Northern Wheatear

Male Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
and a few Pied Wheatear

Male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
However, it was a stunning male Citrine Wagtail that had us chasing it around for sometime until we could pin it down for a few images. Our antics also attracted some officials from the nearby maximum security prison who were wandering what we were up to - after showing them our bird images, we were on our way - but I still dont think they got what our hobby was!

Male Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)

Week 09, 27 February 2014 - Abu Dhabi, UAE

I had the opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi for a day and managed a walk along the Corniche before breakfast and my meetings for the day.

I was impressed by the green well maintained parks with tree-line walkways and the immaculate and clean Corniche. As I didn't have as much time as I would have liked, I couldn't linger too much.

Aside from the usual and common urban species, Purple Sunbird is pretty common in the urban habitat and I came across many. After using my big prime lens, I had forgotten how close you need to get with the relatively short 400mm - but also enjoyed it's lightness.

Eclipse Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus)

Male Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus)
After photographing the Sunbird's a small busy bird gleaning in the canopy caught my eye. It took some patience to stay with it, but I did see that it often came out of cover and hovered on the outside of the foliage, pretty much like a Sunbird before disappearing back into the depths. It was smaller than the larger Chiffchaff's, so I was pretty confident that I had found a Plain Leaf Warbler which was also a new species for me for this part of the world.

Plain Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus neglectus) 

Hovering outside of cover

By then the temps had risen and I had stayed out a little longer than planned so had to pick up the pace back to the hotel.